Microsoft Browser Mistake?

About ten years ago, I remember Microsoft started to get pounded by observers for "missing out" on the Internet.  One of their responses was the development of Internet Explorer, which, thanks to a good design and the fact it was bundled with the OS, quickly beat out Netscape and other incumbents.

Recently, PC-Pundit John Dvorak has argued that Microsoft's foray into Explorer has been its biggest blunder.  I'm not usually a Dvorak fan (I find him to be too much of a technocrat, tending to favor top-down standard setting over messy bottom-up innovation) but I thought his take was pretty interesting:

I think it can now be safely said, in hindsight, that Microsoft's entry
into the browser business and its subsequent linking of the browser
into the Windows operating system looks to be the worst decision"”and
perhaps the biggest, most costly gaffe"”the company ever made. I call it
the Great Microsoft Blunder....

If the problem is not weird legal cases against the company, then
it's the incredible losses in productivity at the company from the
never-ending battle against spyware, viruses, and other security
problems. All the work that has to go into keeping the browser afloat
is time that could have been better spent on making Vista work as first
advertised.

All of Microsoft's Internet-era public-relations and legal problems
(in some way or another) stem from Internet Explorer. If you were to
put together a comprehensive profit-and-loss statement for IE, there
would be a zero in the profits column and billions in the losses
column"”billions.

Yeah, I know, the Internet was supposed to be the next platform for applications taking over from the PC.  This has always been a slow phenomena to emerge (I LIKE having my applications on my own PC and available even if Cox cable is having another hiccup) and its not at all clear you need a browser to play well anyway.  While Microsoft has screwed around with Explorer and dot-net, Google has become the gold standard of web-based applications, and they don't have a browser at all.

By the way, if you are waiting for the new version of Explorer, just get Firefox instead.  It is everything Microsoft is trying to make Explorer and it is there already.  And you don't even have to think in Russian to use it.  (OK, did anyone get my movie reference there or am I a total loser?)

Hat tip to the Mises Blog.

  • http://dfriedman.typepad.com dave

    "OK, did anyone get my movie reference there or am I a total loser?"

    Total loser.

    Re: software applications residing on your computer or an external server. My understanding is that if so-called "software as a service" takes off in the consumer market, there will be a bifurcation, in which some people will opt for the cheaper, ad-laden external software, and other, such as, evidently, yourself, will shell out the money to store the software on their own computer.

    I don't see many finance professionals, for example, trusting their discounted cash flow models to external servers, or trusting their connection to those servers. Those who want to continue to pay for software likely will be able to do so. The software as service meme seems like an attempt by MSFT and others to replicate in the consumer arena the success that Salesforce.com has had in the ERP arena.

  • Eric

    Firefox wasn't one of Clint Eastwood's best, but as an airplane dork, I love the flying scenes. Too bad I could never fly the plane though, I don't even speak Russian, let alone THINK it.

  • Joshua Swink

    John Dvorak says a lot of random and wacky things, which are interesting only because they're so bizarre. This current pronouncement is no exception. The idea that the animosity toward Microsoft would be greatly lessened without MSIE is laughable. They performed and perform plenty of other unfair practices, and even as a large company the receive a lot of hatred simply due to their size. And the fact remains that making and bundling MSIE, even though it was later found to be in violation of antitrust statutes, was a brilliant strategic move that prevented their operating system from becoming an unobserved infrastructural element beneath web applications running on Netscape.

    Today, Google and Firefox, with killer applications like gmail, are only just beginning to threaten this fate again--and Microsoft is probably awakening from its slumber to meet the threat. But without IE it would most likely be about as powerful now as Sun is.

  • http://videogameworkout.com Glen Raphael

    (OK, did anyone get my movie reference there or am I a total loser?)

    I got the reference, but I'm not sure those are mutually exclusive options. :-)

  • http://spaces.msn.com/womulus wom

    Yeah, I remember when IE was coming out. I had never heard of it, I was 9 and all I knew about was Netscape. That's what my Dad's company used to always tell me. Internet Explorer was good, it was something people adopted fast. Firefox is now the IE of those days and IE is now the Netscape. I love Firefox now but I wonder if Mozilla can maintain the browser to be great for the next decade and beyond. I read Dvorak's PC Magazine article and I found it funny how he said Microsoft should drop the browser. Good stuff.

  • eddie

    Yes, and yes. :)

  • Rick Caird

    Clint Eastwood. Fire the missle to the rear.

  • http://1caribe.blogspot.com Mateo

    I think the biggest mistake with IE was integrating it as part of the OS. That is what caused so many bugs and crashes (because windows is bug-laden anyways). I'm not sure if you are aware about they have a new Beta 7 out now that can be downloaded. IE is no longer part of the operating system. And it (finally) has tabs, including a unique feature to see previews of all of your tabs. And RSS, but it's done as badly as Firefox's "live bookmarks". All in all it's a much better browser than the older IEs but i don't think I want to give up Firefox and its many extensions. I can't see IE ever allowing extensions/plugins for things like getting rid of advertisements altogether like you can do with Firefox.

    But back on topic, I don't think IE can be seen as too much of a blunder. Don't they still hold something like 85% of the browser market? I think their biggest mistake was not attacking the search engine market. They are now in the process of trying to catch up there with their msn search engine (see below), but they have a LONG way to go to catch up with Yahoo, let alone Google.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/06/AR2006050600404.html

  • http://unrepentantindividual.com/ Brad Warbiany

    What annoys me, on the other hand, is that Microsoft doesn't play by agreed-upon standards in IE. Sites work differently in IE and FireFox, and for some people (like one of my own employers' internal websites), they don't bother to code to spec, they code for IE.

    But, thankfully, I found an extension for FireFox called "IE Tab", that allows you to open IE as a tab within FireFox. I'll never need to open IE again!

  • Jon M

    "OK, did anyone get my movie reference there or am I a total loser?"
    I got it, but it sounded like a lot of hot Air Wolf to me.

    Firefox isn't perfect though. If you download files and they complete and you are typing and hit the backspace key it will trigger the Back command. Very nasty if you write lengthy posts and download files at the same time.

    It also uses obscene amounts of memory and CPU at times and won't clear it's cache properly. And certain video formats don't have controls, like Pause in Firefox. Otherwise it's good.

  • http://smilerz91.blogspot.com Chris

    I thinmk that Microsoft has made some clear mistakes with IE (bundling being the worst offender), but remember that we would never have had our beloved Firefox if Microsoft didn't enter the market and put Netscape out of its misery.

  • Matthew

    It comes from the movie "Firefox". Great film.

  • http://tswe.blogspot.com Scott

    FireFox the super russian jet controlled by thoughts. Excelletn reference. I hadn't thought of it even though I use firefox daily now.

  • http://www.donthaveone.com TC

    Firefox rocks...

    The book.

    The movie...

    The software!

    MS in on the pathway. Almost sad to see, as they can be more than we can see. But won't!

    Apps over the net? Poppycock! I'd rather use 10 year old stuff that works than contribute to such! After all it's not like we are stuck with 20 megs anylonger is it

  • Matthew

    Coyote:

    What I would recommend for your spam problem, and to avoid having to moderate every comment, is using typekey (link below). I've seen several typepad blogs using it. It forces the commenter to login to an account they create, effectively eliminating comment spam.

    http://www.sixapart.com/typekey/

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  • http://unrepentantindividual.com/ Brad Warbiany

    I'd agree with the above, regarding TypeKey. I hate dealing with that, but have understood it's a necessary evil.

    I'd really recommend you migrate to WordPress, because with the plugin Akismet, I basically never get spam anymore. But a whole software move is a much bigger headache...

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